Take Musu Aiki
You and I and everything in this Universe exist as a part of the endless flow of God’s love. Realizing this, we recognize that all creation is bound together by the same benevolence. To harmonize with life is to come into accord with that part of God which flows through all things. To foster and protect all life is both our mission and our prayer and we call our path “Take Musu Aiki”.
When beginning students ask, “What do I need to learn first?” I usually tell them, as I was told: Reishiki or Dojo etiquette and Ukemi or the Art of receiving energy. These two skills will serve to create a sense of true safety and comfort in the beginning and provide the heart of what will become MINDFULNESS.
It is correct, I think, to see them as aspects of the same thing, for in practice they both forge a way to remain connected and fully present in the moment. That state of being allows us to directly experience and manifest O’Sensei’s insight. Because of the extremely casual nature of our present society, we sometimes misinterpret the intentions of reishiki and project our fears of losing personal power and control onto this situation.
It is the intent of reishiki to expand ones sense of who you are through the practice of mindful interaction with the world and others.
This guide is a collection of ideas and etiquette, both my own and those used by the Kannagara Jinjya, with whom I am affiliated. Please take the time to fully learn and absorb these as a basis for training and meditate on the reasons behind them.
In the West, we commonly feel a sense of separation from nature. This “subject/object” type of relationship with the world manifests in our culture’s lack of respect for our planet, its human and animal inhabitants, its oceans and forests and the life-giving forces in general. It is our intention through proper Aiki training and the practice of reishiki, to osmotically absorb life-enhancing attitudes of connection and respect that will enable us to co-create a more beautiful world.
- Whenever possible it is appropriate to be on the mat and ready to train at least 15 minutes prior to class time. If you are late, one should wait at the edge of the mat in seiza for the instructor to invite you to train, it’s best to perform Haku Shu as you come on the mat. Please clap quietly at such a time. It is very important not to disturb or interfere with training.Please refrain from talking or entering the mat without specific permission from the instructor in charge. Leave your shoes on the shoe rack outside the external door. This will keep the changing area free of mud, dirt, etc. Also, please observe quiet in the changing area as the sound carries onto the mat and could be a disturbance to classes in progress.After the instructor has concluded the previous class, feel free to enter the mat area and warm up. It is best to limit your talking to those subjects that enhance your training and leave your work and other activities until training has concluded.
- When entering the dojo, the first thing is to remove your shoes and place them neatly on the shoe rack. This promotes the cleanliness of the Dojo and is the first action in changing one’s awareness for Aiki training.
- When changing into your gi (practice uniform) make sure that any under-garments do not show past the lengths of your gi sleeves or pants.
- All students should remove any jewelry before training to prevent possible injury to self or others.
- The top of the gi should be folded with the right hand side on the inside and the left hand side over the outside. This Japanese custom is only reversed when a person is being prepared for burial.
- The belt (obi) should be tied at the hara with the ends being of equal length. This is one of the final actions before entering the mat area and should be an action to further awareness and focus on training.
- As you enter the mat area, you should bow towards the Shoden first and then offer a greeting of “Hello, Sensei” or “Good evening, Sensei” in a clear tone. In a Zen temple, a monk has a daily interview with the Roshi (headmaster). At that time he strikes a Kansho (bell) to announce his presence. The Roshi, upon hearing the tone of the Kansho, immediately knows the state of the mental and physical integration of the monk. In the same spirit, the Aikido deshi announces his presence when first entering the Dojo. The Dojo-Cho will instantly gauge his mental condition by the sound of this voice. When the Sensei replies, “Welcome!” the simultaneously existing relationships of fellow Aikidoka and teacher/student are re-affirmed in ancient traditional manner.This custom is very important in our dojo and students should make every effort to remember to collect themselves and speak clearly. This I feel is a great help in preparing yourself to be fully present and mindful of where you are and the purpose for your coming. If you are late, please wait until Sensei is not occupied with instructing before speaking. Do not begin training until invited to by the instructor.
- Before class has been formally started many students like to stretch and practice basic techniques. This is an excellent idea for preparing the body for a training period.Idleness and talking should be kept to a minimum. Sitting quietly can be done in seiza (kneeling) or by sitting cross-legged. Do not lean on the walls or become a hazard to the free movement of others. If you wish to perform Misogi or meditate before class, please use the front portion of the dojo and stay near the walls. Also, when practicing it is important to keep an area in front of the Shoden clear; following the tradition of showing respect for the Spirit of the Dojo.
- Formal practice is begun when all students are seated and facing the Shoden. “Haku Shu” consists of two bows, two hand claps and another bow. Haku Shu should be viewed as a statement of the students’ intention to learn Aiki and as a way of showing respect and gratitude for this path and the changes and growth it allows each individual.
- If a student happens to be late or is ready to enter the mat space after Haku Shu has begun, it is best to wait until after Haku Shu has finished and warm-up exercises have begun. Then, the student can enter the Dojo and, with permission, join the class.
- During training there may be times when your gi becomes disheveled or your belt may come undone. When this happens, you should turn towards the back or sidewalls and fix your gi. It is impolite to turn towards the Shoden to fix your gi.There are many different ideas about the proper dress for Aikido Training, in particular, concerning the wearing of hakama and colored obi. My own preference is that all students who have made a personal commitment to train in the Way, wear white gi and hakama, either blue or black. I feel that proper dress contributes to the ability to access an attitude of commitment and of oneness with those who have trained in the Way throughout the centuries.In some dojos, only black belts are allowed to dress in hakama, in others, women are expected to do so as a matter of modesty. It is your responsibility to follow the traditions of any dojo or class you visit by first asking and honoring their beliefs.
- When working with a partner always begin with a bow and the Japanese words “Onegai-shimasu” (o-nay-ga-she-mas) which translates in this context as “I am in your hands.” This acknowledges each persons responsibility for safe and positive training.When finished with your training, always bow and say “thank you”. Take time, each time, to do this small but profound act.I was told by a Teacher of the Way that you can tell everything about someone by observing the way they bow. Also, that the outcome of all meetings can be seen in that instant of contact. Experience has shown me the truth in this. Cultivate these qualities of connection and recognition in this moment of beginning and they will remain with you.
- When moving through the Dojo while training is going on, always extend your right or left hand to show your intended path of movement. It is a good way of focusing your Ki in the direction you intend to move. It also makes others aware of your presence. Traditionally, once training has begun, students were not allowed to leave the mat. However, classes at our Dojo are not that strict, but it is a good idea to keep the exits from the mat area to a minimum once class has begun. Also, when leaving the mat area, be sure to bow towards the Shoden and again upon your return. If you need to leave training early, it is important to inform the instructor before hand. Our training is intended to provide the student with the opportunity to learn the skills of mindfulness and sincerity. Therefore, it is important to make every effort to complete each training session in order to fully absorb and demonstrate these behaviors. We understand however that life can present emergencies and situations that require you to leave early or on short notice. Always inform the instructor when this is required; it can be disturbing to have a student disappear without explanation.
- As the student’s training advances, he or she may want to use a bokken (wooden sword) or jo (staff) before class to warm up and learn basic movements. If you do not own bokuto, it is best to ask Sensei which bokken and jo belong to the Dojo. It is inappropriate to use someone else’s bokken or jo without permission.Learn to handle your training tools as an extension of your own self. Treat them with care and respect. Do not leave them lying about unattended or in an area that they might be a hazard. A bokken is to be treated as a shin ken or real sword; please act accordingly. Beginning students should ask the more advanced students for guidance in this area.
- During training, Sensei will come around and show you a correction or a better way of moving with the technique. Always pay close attention and when he is finished, if there are no further questions, be sure to say: “Thank you, Sensei”.This will help you to be clear and provide a way to receive feedback and support in your Aiki. One’s ability to be “teachable” is strengthened greatly through this practice. It is also important to remember that the Sensei reaches out of concern for the student and so it is not appropriate to say “I am sorry” when being corrected. This small change in viewpoint can bring about a very different outlook in our relationship to each other and our training.
- During training, it is best to sit seiza unless you have an injury or are not sufficiently limber to sit without undue pain. If you have difficulty, please sit cross-legged. Please so not point your feet at the Shoden: it is considered rude to the traditions of our ryu and the spirit of the Dojo.
- Training fees do not buy Aiki training. They exist to cover the Dojo expenses and provide an opportunity to enhance one’s own personal prosperity. It is the responsibility of each Aikidoka to pay mat fees in a timely manner. If there is some difficulty, feel free to speak with Sensei. The possibility of working in exchange for mat fees exists if you make prior arrangements.If you wish to make additional donations for Dojo projects, please see Sensei about how this can be done.
- Training ends in the same manner as it was begun, with Haku Shu. Then we sweep the mat. It is considered an honor to contribute to maintaining the Dojo, as it is your spiritual home. After sweeping and cleaning the mat area is complete, students are free to move about and talk freely with one another.Please do not engage in further waza after the mat has been swept without permission from the instructor.When leaving the mat area, a bow to the Shoden is the polite way to dismiss oneself from the mat.
- Cleaning the Dojo is an active prayer of gratitude. It is every Aikidoka’s responsibility to assist in cleaning the Dojo and to cleanse and purify his or her own body and spirit. The mat should be swept clean after training and bodies and keiko-gi should be clean. Due to the close physical contact during training, it is important that all students pay particular attention to maintaining personal hygiene, including the washing of hands, bandaging of any cuts or abrasions and frequent washing of their keiko-gi.Any blood or stain on the mat should be immediately cleaned up and the injured student properly attended to. If you discover a problem, please take care of it. Do not wait for someone else to become aware of it before acting. Enter!
I wish to thank Sensei Barrish and the Kannagara Jinjya for all information I have drawn directly from their reishiki guide.
MAY PEACE PREVAIL ON EARTH